- Name: Natasha Case
- Age: 31
- Job Title: CEO and Cofounder of Coolhaus Ice Cream
- Job Description: Team lead, marketing, design, and product innovation
- Location: Culver City, CA
Tell me about the path that led you to where you are today.
My background is in architecture and design. I studied that at Berkeley and then grad school at UCLA so seven years of training. I got the idea of using food to make architecture more fun and accessible because food is so memorable and comforting and something we want all the time. I started calling it Farchitecture (food + architecture) and playing around with different iterations of the concept. It was really just a concept — an art project. I did a couple mobile food projects, pop-up dinners and different products, and saw that it really drew people in.
I was working at Disney Imagineering, my first job out of grad school, and started thinking more under the Farchitecture umbrella and creating ice cream sandwiches and naming them after architects. Then I met the other cofounder of Coolhaus and my now wife, Freya, around that time. She thought it was a hilarious idea and saw the business potential. She had a shared vision and thought it was something very cool where we could both bring different skill sets to the table. She does more business and finance operations while I do sales, marketing, and design. Meeting her allowed me to see the business potential and really want to take the risk to get it going. What started out as an art project concept became a real career reinvention.
We saw mobile food as a great way to get us out there and do it cheaply. It was definitely the zeitgeist at that moment with mobile food becoming more chef-driven with quality ingredients, and then there’s the whole social media aspect to it. And the fact that people are really into food and want to be adventurous and embrace something wacky like our architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches. A lot of good things aligned and we were able to make this dream a reality. I’ve just been doing that ever since.
You worked as a Disney Imagineer and then you started your own ice cream company. If you ask an eight year old what they want to do when they grow up, they’d probably say exactly what you’ve managed to make a reality. How did you manage to turn jobs typically reserved for childhood fantasies into successful endeavors as an adult?
Being a risk taker and having the confidence and the optimism to do something that requires you to take a very different path. Even though it is risky, the reward is huge. It’s incredibly hard work no matter how great your ideas are. It’s so much about execution so you really have to be disciplined and willing to teach yourself a ton and not be afraid of what you don’t know. If you don’t know every little thing about a topic or product and you just do it, in a way it can work to your advantage because you walked through a wall that you didn’t know was there. Sometimes you just need to go for it and not get into analysis paralysis.
Was there a specific moment when it all clicked and you realized Coolhaus was going to be a profitable business?
The thing about business is you have to realize that it could all go away at any point. So you have to keep working toward milestones that are more meaningful or bigger picture or longer lasting. But there are also little signs along the way. Like seeing the response at Coachella and the sales we were able to make when we went there on a dime. And then all the different truck outings and people wanting to bring us to their weddings. Being able to open in other cities. Being able to get into Whole Foods and then into more mass markets like Kroger and Safeway. Those are all the signs saying that we are onto something. You have to keep paying attention to those and also not be afraid to say, “this isn’t working.”
It seems like every great business is made up of partners who compliment each other. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Ben and Jerry. How important was the partnership with Freya Estreller? What advice would you give about finding the right business partner?
I mean that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges. The biggest factor is having the aligned vision and the different skill sets because, especially in the beginning, you are going to have to cover a lot of ground together. So for us we both saw the writing on the wall and knew it could be something incredible and huge, but I could go and do my thing and she could do hers and together it was a functioning whole.
It’s really hard when you are just getting the business off the ground. If you’re both good at the same thing then you will be fighting over the same path and there will be a lot of other things you need to get done. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person so make sure it’s someone that’s fun to be around. If you need to blow off some steam and get a meal together, is this someone you want to do that with? Being romantically involved right away can be scary for people but I think that is what made it so successful for us. We were together all the time and there is something very romantic about starting a business. And we built it in a way where she could eventually exit and start her own company. She now has a company called Ludlows Cocktail Co. We are entrepreneurs and she can move on and do something else. It’s not like we always have to be doing this together forever.
Your marketing efforts have been incredibly successful since the beginning. What is it about Coolhaus brand that is so appealing beyond the taste of the ice cream?
Having a brand personality and not just making it about “here’s where we are and the hours we are open.” We want to let people in and tell them the kind of restaurants we eat at, where we travel, who are friends are on the road, what we look like — don’t be being afraid to get personal and show your personality. I think also really showing people that you’re paying attention to what they’re doing and interacting with them.
We’ve built a family tree with our different Twitter accounts and each social media platform really interacts with the other. For example, we have our LA feed that just shows our LA venues that day and the hours that we’re open. And then you can follow the brand feed and get more of the national story. So if you’re not in a city where we have a Coolhaus shop, you don’t have to be constantly getting Tweets about the menu — just being very operationally keen to all that. And we always try to be early adopters with new platforms. So for example with Snapchat, we started snapping discounts and special passwords for people to use. We really try to find neat ways to embrace all social outlets that may not even be widely accepted yet.
What was the transition like from food truck to brick and mortar to wholesale? Out of those three avenues of distribution, which did you find the most difficult to be successful in?
Food trucks are really difficult to scale because each one is different in each city and each county has different laws. I’m glad we have our fleet but we have to be very strategic about unleashing their power. They are great brand builders but they’re very difficult to scale. The stores are the most cost and labor intensive. And then the wholesale side is a game of numbers. You really have to get that volume for it to make sense, but that is definitely our long term play because I can keep innovating products and doing different things whether it be an ice cream or getting into different categories like candy bars, cookies, beverages, cereal one day – who knows. You can keep innovating and using those same distribution channels.
Tell me about your daily routine.
I always try to do something active in the morning. We play a lot of tennis. We started doing ClassPass today actually, which I love. I like to have that morning routine to clear my head and get excited for the day. I always eat breakfast. Always. I try to get through emails for the first couple hours of the day and then clear myself up more for meetings, calls, working with people whether it’s my team, clients, strategic partners, etc. I really try to spend no more than half my day at my desk. I always do something design related at least once throughout the day. I spend almost everyday doing some sort of product development whether it’s a cookie, ice cream, partnership product, or licensing deal. I’m very involved on the product development side. And I bring my dogs to work and take them for walks and always try to leave the office at a normal hour.
What is the best part of your job? What excites you the most?
Seeing my team really work together. With 75 employees and millions of sandwiches being sold every year, people’s livelihoods are relying on this crazy architecture inspired cookie concept. This crazy weird idea has legs and it’s here to stay.
Someone may have company in town on a Thursday afternoon and say, “I’m going to show you on of the best things about LA” and take them to the Coolhaus shop. Or that person who buys the balsamic fig pint in New Jersey every week and it’s their addiction — how incredible that it has come to that from this tiny art project. Just that kind of realization of being able to reach so many people and see that satisfaction and that joy. I think it’s really amazing. It’s mind blowing.
What goes into choosing the elaborate flavors and complex combinations? What’s your favorite flavor?
My favorite changes every day. It depends on the mood and what we have seasonally. We have so many flavors and locations so I’m always into the new ones. The ones I go to the most are probably dirty mint chip, fried chicken and waffles, and salted chocolate. Right now our summer line is fast food so French fries, malt balls – it’s so good. We also have our Netflix flavor, which is nacho Doritos with a white cheddar popcorn infused base.
As far as what goes into it, I just always try to find unique sourcing and ideas. The quality goes without being said at this point — that’s just always expected. We have some of the best texture of any of the small batch ice cream that I’ve seen out there. It’s hard to achieve that with small batch. I see a lot of really cool inclusions but getting the texture right is a whole other side of the craft.
You make all the flavor decisions?
Yes. I do all the product development and I go to our prep facility at least four times a year to create the seasonal lineup. Flavors are definitely my wheelhouse.
What aspects of your job do you dislike? What is the biggest sacrifice that you’ve had to make?
Business is a huge priority and you feel like you have to strike while the iron is hot so there are some things you may have to put aside, especially early on. We’re not able to be as social as before we started the business but at the end of the day, the business really gives you a purpose. And I love to be working at fun events because you have your purpose but it’s also something very cool to be part of.
As far as other sacrifices, it’s hard financially. Being a business owner is hard. It can be hard to get a mortgage for a house because all the profits and losses of a business are considered your own. There are a lot of things like that you need to take into consideration. It’s hard to have total financial security but then again, the payoff can be huge.
Is there anything else about your job or industry that you want people to know?
I’ll speak to the job since I’m the CEO. You really have to be cut from a certain cloth for this because it can be incredibly stressful and very challenging both mentally and physically. If you were born to be in this type of role then you just have to do it. You’ll be happier because you are controlling your destiny and you can control your day. As time has gone on and my company has grown, I can take the time to do the things that I want and live as I desire to. That really feels good. And you’re creating your own world since a brand is a world – it’s a culture. It’s kind of like you have the opposite of FOMO (fear of missing out) because you are in the absolute coolest place that you can be.
Question from the last interviewee. If we were all personified animals living in today’s world, what animal best correlates with the skills that make you great at your Cool Job?
I just have to say lion because I’m a Leo and I’m blonde and I’m the boss lady ruling the ice cream kingdom.
What one question do you want the next interviewee on People With Cool Jobs to answer? (You can ask anything!)
In relationships, are you a gardener or a flower?
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